Letter: Accountancy inquiry was no 'whitewash'

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Business and City commentary 'Self-Regulation runs out of time' (7 January) does less than justice to the determination of the accountancy profession to uphold vigorously the standards of its members.

It describes as a 'whitewash' the report of the Committee of Inquiry of the Joint Disciplinary Scheme set up to look into the conduct of members involved in the affairs of Alexander Howden Holdings, Minet Holdings and WM Underwriting Agencies. It is important to understand the background to this inquiry before entering judgement on it.

The report of the DTI Inspectors into these matters was referred to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales in August 1990, and a reference to the Joint Disciplinary Scheme was made in January 1991. Prior to these references, the matters were under active investigation by a tribunal acting under statutory powers, and by the Committee of Lloyd's. In these circumstances it would have been folly to have set up another inquiry which would only have hindered those already in progress.

After the references were received, a Committee of Inquiry was appointed; it sought expert advice as to the standards expected from members of the accountancy profession at the time relevant to the matters complained about. It then approached the members concerned.

The members under inquiry made it clear that they did not accept either the facts or the findings of the DTI Inspector's Report, and that they no longer had available documents on which they would need to rely were they to seek to deal once again with the matters set out in that report.

The Committee of Inquiry, chaired by a former president of the Law Society, concluded that the matter had been brought before it as soon as was practicable following publication of the report, bearing in mind the necessary preliminary work, but it was satisfied that the members under inquiry had shown on the balance of probabilities that, owing to the lapse of time, no fair inquiry could now be held. Consequently, if any adverse findings were eventually to be made, they might be considered not to accord with the rules of natural justice. In these circumstances, which were wholly outside the control either of the institute or of the Joint Disciplinary Scheme, the only practical course open was for the Committee of Inquiry to decide that it would not now be able to reach a satisfactory finding on the professional or business conduct, efficiency or competence of the members under inquiry. Far from being a 'whitewash', this decision was not only the most sensible one, but the only course which could legally be sustained.

Yours faithfully,

A. WILSON

Chairman, Executive Committee

Joint Disciplinary Scheme

Institute of Chartered

Accountants

London, EC2

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